Dr. P. Chhinder
“Dr. Chhinder, we are giving you the option of getting his TC (Transfer Certificate) or else we would be compelled to rusticate your son from the school,” said the Principal.
Though Dr. Chhinder had anticipated something serious when he got the telephonic call to meet the Principal, he looked down at the glass-topped table in shocked silence. Budhi had indulged in all sorts of mischief earlier, too, many times and several teachers had complained to Dr. Chhinder when he met them in PTA meetings. When he was in Class V, the teachers would write messages for the parents in his subject-notebooks, but Budhi tore off the pages.
“Sir, can’t you give him one more chance?”
“Won’t you like to know what he has done this time?” the Principal asked grimly.
Dr. Chhinder tensed up.
“He has sent his class teacher to hospital.”
Dr. Chhinder gasped.
“He put a huge cracker in a chalk-box under the table. The fiery explosion reverberated in the whole school. All of us were terrified. She has sustained burns in the lower part of her body.”
Dr. Chhinder was dumbstruck and held his head in both his hands.
“Actually, it is a criminal case,” the Principal continued with cold professionalism. “I would have lodged an FIR against him, but when I went to meet the teacher in hospital, she dissuaded me.”
“I have no face to request you for any leniency, Sir,” Dr. Chhinder said in a meek, despondent voice. “But… but his career would be… destroyed.”
“Dr. Chhinder, you should be thinking of saving his life. I have a lingering feeling the boy has violent propensities. He might become a hardened criminal.”
Dr. Chhinder turned ashen. He asked half-heartedly, “Sir, you are an educationist. Can you help with a suggestion how to save him?”
The Principal was thoughtful. “I don’t think he has his heart in studies. Put him into some skill-teaching institute. Also get him some counseling.”
Then he quickly added, “I have met countless number of parents and students. You seem to be a gentle person. Is your wife an impulsive lady, given to rages?”
“No, Sir. She is one of the mildest persons,” he said and added, “But she dotes on this boy and spoils him.”
“Though it is a contributory factor, but it does not fully explain his conduct. Such behavior is a matter of genes, as you would also know being a doctor.”
“Sir, I am not a trained allopath. I retired as a Section Officer from a government office. I don’t know much about these things. I practice Homoeopathy to supplement my pension.”
The uncomfortable silence sprawling between them was disturbed, when a peon came in with some files. “From accounts department, Sir.”
Dr. Chhinder got up mumbling to himself, “I don’t know what will become of him.” The Principal felt a lurking sympathy for Dr. Chhinder and said, “You can get him another chance.”
Dr. Chhinder stood still. “No public school will take him, as we have e-information sharing network. Get him admitted to a government school.”
“When can I come for the TC, Sir?
“It is ready. Please wait in the lounge for a few minutes.”
“Have a seat, Sir” says a patient to Bijoy. Two people stand up and the others squeeze to make place for Bijoy Bhaduri, his wife and son on the rickety bench placed along the wall.
The clinic is in Bapa Nagar, a lower-income-class locality, inhabited by vegetable and fruit vendors, peanut and roasted-gram sellers, rickshaw pullers and tanners. Whiffs of drying leather waft in all directions with the breeze.
The clinic is one room. A tiny corner has been improvised as the compounder’s cabin – cubby-hole actually -- whose chipping plywood gives it a mangy look, a century old table and chair are placed in a corner for the doctor, and two rickety benches line up against the walls. The patients are generally locals, but sometimes they also include people from middle-class colonies, such as, Patel Nagar, Rajender Nagar, Rohini and Paschim Vihar, because Dr. P. Chhinder’s reputation as a good doctor has spread beyond Bapa Nagar.
The patient sitting next to Bijoy asks him, “Sir, from where have you come?”
“For the first time,” asks another.
“Our son has a kidney stone. We’ve heard he is a specialist in dissolving stones.”
“Arre Sahib, he can cure any disease. He has shaffa in his hands because he is not greedy for money.”
Both the benches are full. But more patients come and stand near the door.”
The room is humming with the voices of the patients.
Budhi was not home when Dr. Chhinder came from school. Looking at her husband’s face, his wife asked him what had happened.
“He has been thrown out of school. He attacked a teacher. She is in hospital.”
“It is not possible.”
Dr. Chhinder just looked at her sadly for a few moments, and then showed her the TC which mentioned, passed Class X, studying in class XI. She burst out, “They are being vicious to my son. Which child does not indulge in some pranks?”
“Thank God he is not in jail.”
“You never liked him. That’s why you can say such cruel things.”
“Stop spoiling him. I tell you, he is already almost a gone case. He might bring ruin on himself… and also on us.”
The sluice gates of Bhagwanti’s tears opened and there was a swirling flood. “Your wish will never be fulfilled,” she fulminated amidst weeping. “You were against him since the moment I picked him up from the bank of Ganga Maiyya. He is her gift to us.”
Dr. Chhinder let out a deep and desperate sigh, tried to unsuccessfully stop her from crying and then went to lie down. He doubted if he would ever be able to convince his wife that Budhi, their son, had become a full-fledged lout.
In the second month of Budhi’s entry into a government school, he was mauled by some of his classmates. When he came home, Bhagwanti howled to look at his battered condition.
When Dr. Chhinder came home, she insisted him to go to the school and get the goondas punished. “Now you see, it is the others who are ruffians, not he.”
When Dr. Chhinder went to the school, he was told by the Vice-Principal, it was Budhi who had first bashed up a boy. Then the boy’s friends joined him and gave him a thrashing. In fact, Budhi had been a nuisance from day one of his joining the school.
Bhagwanti fiercely contested this version. Soon after this incident, one day, Budhi refused to go school. “Ma they want to kill me.”
“Why?” asked Dr. Chhinder.
“Because you went to school to complain against them.”
“Forget about the school. I want my boy safe,” said Bhagwanti.
Something snapped in Dr. Chhinder. He said nothing.
“He is very late today,” says a patient.
“He is generally on time.”
“He is meticulous about everything,” another adds.
“Imagine at the age of eighty two, he is full of energy.”
“It is all about discipline in life.”
“He seems to lead a regulated life.”
“But don’t forget, he is a doctor. He can look after himself better than anyone else.”
“Not entirely,” intervenes one of the patients. “I tell you, he works hard to maintain his good health. He goes for his morning walk at 5 a.m. regularly, everyday without fail. In all seasons. Even in the bone-chilling January.”
“During monsoons also?” asks a patient.
“Yes, without fail. He is the only one to be seen walking in the park with the umbrella on his head when it is raining.”
People nod their heads appreciatively. But a skeptic asks, “How do you know?”
“A friend of mine lives in Dr. Chhinder’s block in Janak Puri. That is not all. He does Yoga and Pranayama for one hour.”
“Yes, he is an expert in Pranayama. He can hold his breath for half an hour even at this age.”
After two years of loitering, and constantly sponging money off his mother, Budhi turns into a regular extortionist. He would frighten small school-going kids and make them part with what small pocket money they were carrying. One day, about twenty angry people from the mohalla descend on Dr. Chhinder’s house and shout and warn, if Budhi did not stop his goondagardi they would complain to the police and get him arrested. It was because of Dr., Chhinder’s goodness that they had not done that till then.
Bhagwanti pleads with Dr. Chhinder, “Why don’t you teach him Hommopathy? He can then assist you.”
Dr. Chhinder has now let things slip out of his hand. He has lost the will to resist and remains sad most of the time, though outwardly he still looks healthy and agile. He continues to treat his patients and finds a reason to live in the relief they get from his medicine.
He merely says, “Budhi will have to reach the clinic around 8.45 a.m. and help Varyam Singh. He will have be serious and careful and work hard. He will have to assist Varyam Singh in order to learn the job.”
“Yes, yes, I will explain everything to him. I am sure, he will listen to me.”
Dr. Chhinder gives out a low, hopeless laugh
Budhi arrives at the clinic with a lackadaisical swagger at about 9.30 a.m., after Varyam Singh has already swept the clinic, dusted the furniture and made a note of the medicines which are about to finish so that the doctor can place order for them well in advance.
Dr. Chhinder comes at about 10.30 a.m., having completed his Yoga and Pranayama regimen.
Budhi hardly pays any attention to the medicines which Varyam Singh prepares after going through the prescriptions Dr. Chhinder sends to him. Budhi does the manual job of making puriyas or preparing mixtures with the medicines, which the compounder hands him.
After some time Budhi launches on to what he was good at. Filching money from the cash box. One day when Varyam Singh catches him at it, Budhi takes him inside the cabin and flashes the knife he always carried in his socks. Varyam Singh trembles and sweats in fear, looks at him as at a ferocious animal and keeps his mouth shut.
Budhi notices that some patients come before his father arrives and Varyam Singh gives them medicine, takes the money and puts it in the cashbox.
After two months of Budhi’s joining, Varyam Singh leaves the job because he always felt violence lurking in the cabin when Budhi was around. Now Budhi has become a fulltime compounder, but he has learnt nothing about medicines. He does not even properly check whether he is giving the same medicine as mentioned in the prescription, given to him through the small window.
The result is Dr. Chhinder often finds a patient returning to him repeatedly for the same ailment. Then he goes to the compounder’s cabin and prepares the medicine himself.
Dr. Chhinder has expressly instructed Budhi not to give medicine to any patient in his absence. But he keeps doing it regularly and pockets the money. One morning, before Dr. Chhinder has arrived, a small child about ten years old comes and wants medicine. His shorts keep sliding down his knees. Hitching them up he says to Budhi, who is occupying his father’s chair, “Dr. Sahib, please give medicine.”
“For whom?” asks Budhi.
“What has happened to her?”
“Loose motions,” says the boy, puts his finger into his nostril and starts digging out stuff.
Budhi enters the cabin and brings a vial full of tiny white pills. “Tell Dadi to take four pills, four times a day. She can take the second dose after an hour. He had heard Varyam Singh tell it to some of the patients. She would be alright soon.”
It is about 1 p.m., three hours since the boy had taken the medicine when Dr. Chhinder comes.
Everyone stands up and greets him. But he folds his hands and profusely apologises, “I’m so sorry, all of you had to wait this long. Actually, there was a traffic jam on the way. A terrible accident had taken place near Dhaula Kuan. All the approach roads, including the one from Janak Puri in the Cantt area, were completely clogged.”
A collective murmur sympathizes with Dr. Chhinder.
He starts to examine the patients and write out prescriptions. When he is asking the fourth patient for the symptoms, a police jeep screeches to a halt in front of the clinic.
“Dr. Chhinder, you are under arrest.”
“For killing a patient.”
“Don’t act innocent. Now come with us.”
“Just a moment.”
He goes into the cabin and finds a bottle containing liquid, lying on the counter. Budhi had taken it out of the drawer to prepare the medicine for the boy’s grandmother. It is Arsenicum Albunim, CM (one hundred thousand million), an astronomically high dose. Dr. Chhinder understands everything.
“Yes, let’s us go.”
Some of the patients eagerly get to their feet to tell the police the truth. But Dr. Chhinder raises his hand and silences them and walks towards the waiting police jeep.